Beth Ford, the president/CEO of Arden Hills, Minnesota-based Land O'Lakes, Inc., spoke May 23 at a gathering of the Executives Club of Chicago.
Ford, who is lesbian, spoke about both the future of food production and challenges facing the agricultural sector. Myriad market disruptions face farmers and food producers, among them trade policy, farm consolidations and retail shifts to e-commerce.
Nevertheless, "it's an exciting and involving area," Ford said. Land O'Lakes is both a Fortune 500 and a farmer-owned cooperative organization.
Ford encouraged vibrant investment in rural communities. She noted, for example, that, even as mainstream commentators and politicians focus on the advent of high-speed 5G access in urban markets, 30 percent of farmers don't yet have access to any broadband. The most important call to action she issued for the audience, in fact, was encouraging governments and businesses to work on increasing that access.
"Nobody is looking for handouts or sympathy," Ford said. "People are looking for reinvestment."
Ford maintained that U.S. farmers must acknowledge and adjust for changing consumer expectations about sustainability and food safety, challenges she said they are well-prepared for. She added that, "Farmers have always been entrepreneuers."
Among the biggest challenges farmers face is erratic weather, which has had enoromously detrimental impacts on the growing season in 2019. Ford said that, this year, "I've just been waiting for the locusts to show up."
Another central challenge to the United States, and the entire world, is the growing population. She estimated that food production will need to double by the year 2050 in order to feed Earth's population.
Ford made the final argument that robust investment in rural economies are beneficial to urban communities as well, adding, "To me, nobody is more efficiant than the farmer."